By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Hollywood comedies are filled with oppressive employers: from Dabney Coleman’s sexist and tyrannical Franklin M. Hart Jr. in “9 to 5,” to Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” to all of the higher-ups in “Horrible Bosses,” to name a few.
Now Melissa McCarthy, the lovable sensation from “Bridesmaids,” “Spy,” “Tammy” and TV’s “Mike & Molly,” brings her hellacious, brash and unrelenting uber-businesswoman Michelle Darnell to the big screen in “The Boss.”
A petite bundle of steamrolling tenacity, Michelle was created by McCarthy a decade and a half ago while she was performing stand up with L.A.’s famed comedy troupe The Groundlings. Inspired, in part by New York’s flamboyant and infamously callous hotelier Leona Helmsley, among others, the financially successful, perfectly coiffed redhead was a mainstay of McCarthy’s stand up act.
After years of gestation, it was time to bring the cantankerous, forceful character to the big screen. The catalyst for transforming loquacious manipulator into the subject of a feature film was the 2007 Writers Guild strike. With production on her TV show temporarily halted, McCarthy and longtime Groundlings friend Steve Mallory sat down and started pitching each other ideas from the numerous character they had developed on stage. Their conversation kept coming back to Michelle, a big-talking, chops-busting redhead, and drew up an outline of several story points for her. The story evolved into one where the ruthless money mogul turned out to have a heart of gold within. McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, a writer and comedian in his own right, soon joined the team. (He also directs and serves as a producer on the film.) The trio’s screenplay evolved into a modern day story of celebrity, with a humorous commentary on wealth, family, fame and the power it creates.
Veteran comedian Kirsten Bell, currently starring on Showtime’s “House of Lies,” was cast as the put-upon executive assistant and single mother Claire, whom Michelle abuses when she is at the height of her power, and also the woman she comes crawling back to after serving a prison sentence for insider trading. The comedy also stars Kathy Bates, Tyler Labine and Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”).
With some reservations, Bell’s Claire welcomes Michelle into her cramped apartment on an interim basis following her prison term. Soon, though, down-and-out Michelle has devised a scheme to take over a Girls Scouts-like troop and transform it a profit-making commercial venture, with Claire as a partner. Things get a bit out of hand when Michelle’s former suitor, Renault (“Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage), whom she rejected years earlier, turns up to exact revenge in a way that will most hurt her—by co-opting her new business.
A successful businesswoman in her own right—McCarthy recently launched a clothing line called Melissa McCarthy Seven7—the dynamic actress says it was fun ushering Michelle Darnell to the big screen.
Q: What made you think that it was time to bring this character back that you created while you were with The Groundlings 15 years ago.
McCarthy: I just could never kind of let her go. I took that as a sign I wasn’t done with her. I had hoped that since I loved her so much for all of her flaws and for all of her good and bad points, she was worth exploring. Ben and I would be talking about something completely random and I just went, “I think Michelle is an orphan. I think she just had no one who ever really love her.” He’s like, “We were not talking about that at all.” I was like, “I’m sorry. I may have drifted, and was thinking about Michelle.”
I love that kind of unbridled confidence, with that “I’m going to wear what I want, do what I want, and say what I want” attitude. We don’t get to see that a lot with female characters. The joy of playing her was also to get to know and try to show why she’s like that. That’s really why I love her because she was kind of hurt enough to build up a wall. Some people are like, “I’m the only one that exists. I don’t need anyone,” and others hate that. I always go, “Oh, God, I wonder what made them like that?” I always want to know what makes someone build up that wall. There’s usually a pretty interesting story there.
Q: You’ve had a lot of success in the creative arts. How was it for you when you had to pay the bills? Were you good at certain things, or did you struggle with the system as it is?
McCarthy: I’m from good, Midwestern stock. I’m a really hard worker and I’ve worked since I was 15. I’ve always kind of liked it. My first job was in a nursing home. I worked in the restaurant part of the nursing home and I just liked it. My parents both worked and I think I just kind of got that work ethic. I feel accomplished at the end of the day to do something. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t work. I’d drive everyone I know insane. I’d be organizing their closets and I’d be way up in their business. Everyone wants me to keep working.
Q: Your character obviously has plenty of self-esteem. As a parent, are there ways in which you instill self-esteem in your daughters?
McCarthy: I certainly hope so. I try to let them be exactly who they are, and you try to show a good example. I think that’s the biggest thing. Once I had children and especially having girls, I try not to do those repetitive things. A biggie for me is, take the compliment. I’m hard on people for that. When you say, “Oh, you look great,” so many women for the next 20 minutes say, “I got it on sale. It’s actually terrible. If I turn around you’d hate it. I look terrible. I got one shorter leg.” So kind of a rule with me is just said, “thank you,” and walk off. It’s a great lesson. Don’t negate it; don’t tell them they’re crazy. Just say, “Thank you. I love it, too. That’s why I put it on,” or, “Thanks, I’m glad you like it.”
Q: You’ve got a great dynamic with Kristen Bell in this. Can you talk about working with her?
McCarthy: I met Kristen in passing years ago, because she is married to (actor) Dax Shepard, who Ben and I have known for eight billion years, going all the way back to Groundlings. So we’ve known him and I’ve met her in passing and I’ve heard nothing but good things, but I never actually got to work with her until this. It took about 13 seconds for us to click and we were off to the races. I don’t know that anyone doesn’t really click with Kristin. I mean it’s kind of hard not to. She’s easy and really smart and really funny. That was just kind of a blast. We were just silly as can be, and other than ruining a lot of takes by making each other laugh, we just had a great time. Her kids were always on set and my kids were on set. We have a lot in common.
Q: How was it working with Peter Dinklage?
McCarthy: I was so weirdly nervous to meet him. There’s something very imposing about Peter Dinklage. The voice. He radiates some kind of magic and I was like, “he’s such a good actor.” I went to meet him for the first time after a play and I got very nervous and I was like saying to myself, “Please don’t say anything weird or dumb.” He’s very smart. You know I get all nervous when I’m meeting someone I really think is amazing, and he just couldn’t have been nicer.
Q: Why did you cast him as Renault?
McCarthy: I knew he was an amazing actor and I knew he would be great in the role. I didn’t know he was that funny. I know a lot of funny people—my friends are very funny (but) that guy is one of the funniest human beings on the planet. He just does things that you can’t get your head around, which I found a little irritating. I was like, “Just be good at one thing. Don’t keep branching out. You’ll shame all of us.”
Q: You launched your own clothing line. How’s that going?
McCarthy: It’s going great. I find it wildly creative and something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was probably in 6th grade. My grandmother was a seamstress. This (pointing out the colorful ensemble she is wearing) is from my clothing line that. It is fantastically rewarding, and I’m loving it. Every time I fight for a seam, better fabric or something, I think the fight’s worthwhile.
Q: Are the clothes Michelle wears in the film from your line?
McCarthy: No. Wendy Chuck was the wardrobe designer on the movie and she is fantastic, because she goes for the character and the feel of it. She did “Tammy” with us, which was incredibly different, and we did this one and we just had a blast doing it, every step of the way. Michelle required a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. Nobody wanted to see Michelle in like Dockers and a T-shirt.
Q: You wrapped your TV series, “Mike & Molly” after a six-year run. Do you miss being on stage and interacting with a live audience?
McCarthy: I do. It’s the first time I haven’t had a live audience now. The show is still airing, but we’ve wrapped shooting about two months ago. It’s strange because since I was about 20, I have always performed in front of some type of live audience. I don’t know what I’m going to do to fill that, but I think because we improvise so much in our movies, I can still keep myself nervous enough, because I never know what I’m going to say or someone’s going to say to me. It does keep a little bit of the energy that you get from a live audience, because when we’re shooting, Ben (Falcone, the director) doesn’t know what I’m going to say—I don’t know what I’m going to say—and it keeps that little spark going.
Q: You can’t help but notice some parallels between your character and a certain ginger-haired GOP politician. Is Michelle Darnell somewhat inspired by Donald Trump?
McCarthy: Nope. I’m desperately trying to think of a different redheaded politician. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to come up with one.” A lot of people have asked about that, but the character has been with me for 15 or 16 years. Her look was (based) more on (New York real estate tycoon) Leona Helmsley back in the day and that’s who I always kind of had in my head, or a little (financial adviser) Suze Orman for sure, who I love. I mean Suze was more in my head than anyone in terms of her confidence and her knowhow. To me, Michelle is successful because she’s good at it. She’s not doing smoke and mirrors and a crazy show. She’s good at what she does. She makes people money and she’s made herself money and she runs successful companies, so to me it’s not Trump-esque at all, because she’s actually doing something.
Q: What advice would you have for people who are about to graduate and enter the workforce for the first time, whether it’s show business or another line of work?
McCarthy: I would say, work hard and don’t expect too much. You have to work your way up. I think that’s something at that age and there’s such instant gratification now. Most people I know that really worked their way up are better at their jobs. They’re more adjusted in the world. Don’t come in and expect to be the CEO. You’ve got to work for it.